July 6, 2006
(Balkanalysis.com Research Service)- The voting for Macedonia’s first parliamentary elections since September 2002 came to an end at 7 PM on Wednesday evening.
Only a few hours later, with less than 50 percent of the votes counted, it seems clear that the incumbent SDSM-DUI government has been thrown out, after four years of painful reforms and lackluster economic performance.
In a press conference held just before midnight Nikola Gruevski, leader of Macedonia’s main opposition party, the center-right VMRO-DPMNE, claimed victory and promised to make repairing the economy his main priority. Conceding that it will be a “hard fight,” Gruevski promised that “step by step Macedonia will move forward, and we will no longer be on the bottom levels in terms of poverty, corruption and crime.”
Prime Minister Vlado Buckovski of SDSM called Gruevski to concede defeat, at the same time taking the opportunity to praise himself for “one of the most successfully organized elections until now.” In fairness to the PM, feared hotspots such as Saraj and Kondovo were contained, due to heavy Western pressure (various ambassadors, diplomats, special representatives and observers were out in force), and this perfectly sunny and placid day passed uneventfully.
VMRO’s singing and dancing supporters moved on the Macedonia Square in Skopje center immediately after Gruevski’s speech. Yet when the initial euphoria wanes, difficult questions of coalition-building will emerge. It’s likely that SDSM defector Tito Petkovski, who started his own New Social Democratic Party (NSDP) and claims to have come third nationwide among Macedonian parties, will be invited to the new government. Gruevski himself has been accused of weak leadership in the past and it will be interesting to see how he handles the coalition-building task- now, more challenging than ever.
Indeed, the major question of coalitions is who will become the “Albanian partner.” Historically the DPA of Arben Xhaferi has been allied with VMRO-DPMNE. However, early reports indicate that the incumbent DUI of Ali Ahmeti has beaten them among the general Albanian population.
Here the precise difference in votes will become pivotal. Problems could arise if VMRO picks the losing Albanian party, and so gains just enough cumulative parliamentary seats to secure a majority, while ignoring the ‘majority’ will of the minority community. The fact that the issue even arises is indicative of the reality that Macedonia is, for all intents and purpose, already an ethnic federation. The aftermath of this year’s election is the first time that this dynamic is being put to the test, however.